As parents, we often take our position for granted. We often assume our responsibilities towards our children are to keep them safe and provide them their basic needs. While this is absolutely true, their needs go beyond physical well-being. Their mental well-being is as important as their physical if not more.
But the big question is, “how do I know what my child is going through mentally?, how do I get my child to open up to me?”
There is no way to know how your child feels unless they open up and talk to you. As a parent you may have found at times it is much easier to strike a conversation with total strangers than moody teenagers.
But there are parenting practices that overtime is going to help you build a strong meaningful relationship with your little ones.
1. Start early
While the saying ‘Never too late’ still holds good, try and start a pattern early. Remember that “Routines are forever”. If you routinely start talking to your child about their day in school, or their experience in any situation your child is more likely to feel comfortable and safe opening up to you as they grow into their awkward years.
Building a strong relationship that is open to any conversation is crucial especially in the early years. This forms a foundation that is going to withstand the troubled teen years too.
Make it routine to ask your child how they are feeling, which from a very young age is going to help them learn to vocalize their feelings. Children’s inability to vocalize feelings results in “internalization disorders”, like depression, anxiety, withdrawal, and eventually loneliness.
Feign over-enthusiastic animated reactions for your toddlers day to day problems.
“Oh no, you misplaced your toy?. I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. Here, Let me help you look for it.”
2. Open up first
Your child is more likely to feel comfortable talking about their feelings when they feel it is natural to do so. This sense that it is normal to talk about feelings is going to come only when they hear you talk about it.
They are not only going to learn how to express their feelings but also how to deal with them in a healthy positive way from watching you.
Always play out the conversation in your head and rehearse a healthy way to resolve your conflicts before you lay this out in front of your children. The last thing you want to do is rant about a frustrating day that is going to make them feel uncomfortable and awkward.
Let’s say you missed out on a well-deserved promotion at work, cursing your boss or competition in front of your kids may not be the best way to set an example for them. While all you probably want to do is some venting, save this for your partner or friends over a cocktail.
You may have to display a more orchestrated mature behavior in front of your very impressionable children. In the above scenario, talk about how you could work on your skills to improve your chances in the future or how your competitor was well-deserving, or how you and your company could benefit from their leadership.
Just remember, become the person you desire your children to be someday. Our children are programmed to imitate rather than obey.
3.Create family traditions
Food is a great way to get anyone, irrespective of age in a good chatty mood. After a long exhausting day when you get home, the last thing you would want is an interrogation right when you enter the door.
Bonding over food is incorporated into our genome. You might have noticed that most successful business meetings happen over food.
Get a hearty snack and a healthy drink in them before you start your conversation.
Open with “hey, there you are! let me get started on those pancakes while you freshen up.”
Dinner is another perfect time to get your kid’s attention. Gathering them at the dinner table might be the first step towards a good conversation.
Similarly, create daily and weekly routines that the whole family enjoys. Family traditions are the foundation of communication and bonding in a family. The sooner you incorporate these into your routine the more beneficial it is.
The more closer your child is knit into the fabric of family, the more likely they will open up to family members, including parents.
4. Utilize the “in-between” time.
Routines need not be limited to dinner alone, gently request your kids to help you cook. Do not make it into a chore that your child will start dreading. If they are too whiny and reluctant to help cook, then ask them to just keep your company the first few days. Eventually, they will be more open to helping you and may even volunteer to do so.
These “in-between” times are far more relaxed and open than one-on-one intense conversations. Your child is more likely to open up during these conversations.
5. Let the conversation flow
Conversation starters like “How was your school?”, or “How was your day?” are good. But, these can be often met with just a non-conversation like “good”, or “it was fine”, especially with older kids.
What I find is more helpful is to pose questions that tend to have an element of emotion which prompts the child to respond.
Maybe your child is excited about a paper he was writing or a game that was scheduled to happen or an upcoming play or dance. Invoking an emotion prompts a long-winded answer that you pick up further.
“So, how was your paper on city architecture, did everyone else talk about city museums too? Instead of just how was your paper?
“Was your game as good as yesterday? Are those shoes working fine?”
“I was thinking of that blue dress for your dance, it’s beautiful. isn’t it?”
“Did something funny happen today at school?”
From the examples above it is obvious that the questions have details in them that require your involvement in your child’s day to day life activities. Like, being involved in their assignments or knowing their scheduleare
6. Find common ground
Think of your closest friends. What is the thing that brought you to close in the first place? A common hobby, a common frenemy, something in common that both of you had an intense sense of emotion about.
Find a common hobby that “they” enjoy and you could get involved in, like video games, painting, reading books or comics, playing games, puzzles.
The key here is to get involved in something that your child already loves, not about finding something you ‘think’ is right for them. This isn’t so much so about the hobby itself but more about finding common ground that they feel comfortable sharing with you.
I have seen this particular tip work wonders. There is increased trust and communication between parents and children. Gaining your child’s trust is not going to happen over one game or one activity it is about building trust over time.
We often forget how seemingly trivial things meant the world to us as kids. Losing that favorite toy or misplacing grandma’s gift.
Whatever is the reason that your child is upset no matter how unimportant it might seem to you being available not just physically but emotionally and being able to understand what it means to your child is very important.
Your child’s hue and cry over a small toy might seem over the top to you but how you respond to them will determine if they will see you as their go-to person when they are faced with any conflict even as an adolescent or adult.
Whenever your child is upset about anything irrespective of your opinions and feelings, make it as big a deal as it is to them, to you. Match your energy and emotions to their levels.
Do not jump in with your profound insights and conclusions. Yes, they might be profound, but all they want is to be heard and acknowledged.
Be available when your child needs you even if it’s the middle of the night when you are probably exhausted.
8. Be nonjudgemental
The number one reason older children like to refrain from sharing even the most inconsequential events with their parents is their fear of being judged. As parents, we feel we have a monopoly over what is right and wrong, especially in our children’s lives, and the constant need to express this to them.
Being able to refrain from the need to judge is important if you want your children to open up to you. Simply accept the conversation as it comes instead of making polar judgments. While it is easy to judge, that’s not what your teenager is looking for in you.
Be neutral, just nod your head and acknowledge their feelings.
In most conversations we have in our day to day life, most of them are about what we want to hear from someone rather than what they have to say. Your kids may not want to hear what you have to say at least not all the time. Most of the time they want to hear, what they want to hear.
9. Turn off the lecture mode
Yes, you would rather have your child learn from your mistakes than make their own. Yes, there are hundreds of perceptive things that you have gained through your life experiences. No matter how insanely insightful your thoughts are, save them for grownups.
The last thing any child wants to hear is a parent’s sermon. They will start seeing this as exploitation.
Wait for your child to seek your counsel. As they grow and mature they will eventually appreciate your non-judgemental and patient involvement in their life and will seek you out.
10. Seek their help
In the benevolent all-knowing world of a parent, it is mostly a gentle dictatorship. We forget there might be so many things that you could genuinely learn from your children, be it new technology, computers, fashion, trends, pop culture, music.
Even when you feel like you have got a stronger hold on things, seek their opinion.
When we ask for someone’s opinion it genuinely shows that we value their views. Most children hesitate to participate in conversations as they feel they are always sidelined in adult conversations. Acknowledging their views will make them feel they are adding value to the conversation, and therefore are more likely to participate in family discussions.
eventually, This will also help them gain the confidence to get involved in conversations outside the family.
11. Sometimes sleuthing can help
Our job as parents would be so much easier if we could constantly shadow our kids and know everything there is to know. But in reality, most of the productive part of our children’s day is spent outside the safe confines of home, beyond our vigilance.
When all else fails and you are really worried that your child is in some trouble or you notice that your child is constantly anxious or sad it is okay for you as a guardian to do some sleuthing.
No, do not read their diary. Talk to people that are around your children, like their friends and teachers.
Encourage a play date or sleepovers with their friends just to be sure that their social interactions outside the home are not suffering. Carpool is another great idea to know all the ongoing things in your child’s life.
12. Work towards a solution
While the solution seems very obvious to you, encourage your child to work their way towards it. This free expression encourages their thought process to evolve.
Many times we figure things out when we simply discuss out loud with a neutral person. All you need to be is a neutral person who simply agrees and acknowledges them.
Also, This free dialogue encourages them to seek you the next time around.
13. Accept a non-conversation
After a long day, your children may not have the energy or enthusiasm to share everything with you, or even humor you for a little bit. After a long tiring day, you wouldn’t want to do that either.
You might be doing everything possible to get your children to share a meaningful conversation with you, which may not always be met with the same level of enthusiasm that you would expect.
Finally, You need to accept the fact that they may not always want to share every bit of information with you, and that it is okay.